Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The last time the Buffalo Sabres were in Boston, Massachusetts native Jack Eichel had a whale of a game scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists while leading his Sabres to 6-3 comeback win in Beantown on the strength of five unanswered third period goals.
Not so much last night as the Bruins won in 2-1 in overtime on a penalty shot goal by longtime Buffalo nemesis, Brad Marchand.
Marchand was awarded the penalty shot after Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen coughed up the puck to him a second time. The first was at the Boston blueline but Sabres captian Brian Gionta saved the day and on the second one Ristolainen's pass labeled for Johan Larsson was picked off by Marchand who streaked in on goalie Robin Lehner. Ristolainen went with a stick-check, Marchand promptly smacked that weak effort into the air and headed towards the net with Ristolainen mugging him the rest of the way.
Was it penalty-shot worthy?
Meh. I think not. Ristolainen didn't grab him. He just kept shoving him to try and knock him off stride. The ref, however, thought so and pointed towards center ice. Marchand went in, deeked Lehner and roofed a back-hander. Game over. Bruins take the season series.
Marchand has been en fuego lately. He has a goal in eight of his last nine games, nine in all, and has 24 on the season which equals last season's total and puts him within four of his career high of 28. Throughout the game he was a thorn in the Sabres side all night as he skated and stickhandled almost at will through the Buffalo defense. He pumped five shots on goal but it was his fist pump at the end in OT as he celebrated his game-winning goal that killed the Sabres last night.
Once again, Buffalo played the Bruins well and made Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask work hard. He stopped 37 of 38 Sabres shots, some of which were prime scoring opportunities. On the Sabres only goal Jamie McGinn made Rask stretch for a toe save far-side, but Sam Reinhart, who was circling the net pounced on the rebound and backhanded it home.
Rask's counterpart on the other end, Robin Lehner, was pretty stout in net as well and should sue the skaters for lack of support. In six games since coming back from injury Lehner has faced 218 shots allowing 13 goals (.940 sv %) while his team has scored 10, leaving him with a 2-3-1 record. Last night he stopped 36 of 38 Boston shots and was named the game's third star behind Rask (2nd) and Marchand (1st.) He was victimized by and egregious turnover by defenseman Cody Franson in the first period which put the Sabres in a 1-0 hole but held the fort while they clawed their way back. Gotta give props to Marchand on the penalty shot goal.
Ristolainen's turnovers were of the curious nature as he's generally been sound with the puck all season. Until lately, it would seem. The 21 year old native of Finland leads all Sabres in average time on ice with 25:13 which places him 10th in the league. He's been the rock on the back end all season, but as we saw with Ryan O'Reilly, it looks like he's a bit worn down from carrying all that weight.
O'Reilly is the workhorse for the Sabres forwards has been at the top of ATOI for forwards the entire season thus far. A workload like that took it's toll on him the last few weeks and it's showed in his play. He looks to be regaining his form but his workhorse counterpart on the back end seems to be hitting a wall.
Ristolainen is chiseled at 6'4" 207 lbs. and is in great shape, but fatigue might be affecting the mental aspect of his game. Throughout last night's contest he wasn't as sharp with his stick. He had some trouble with the puck whether receiving it or, as in the case of the Marchand penalty, passing it. We'll see how much of the workload his d-partner Josh Gorges can handle. For his part, Gorges looks like he's rounded into form. He's blocking shots, taking the body and generally getting physical at every opportunity.
The Sabres are off until Tuesday when they welcome the division-leading Florida Panthers to the First Niagara Center. The Cats have been in rebuild-mode for a long time (one playoff appearance in the last 14 seasons) and after years of having top picks seem to be putting it together. This will be the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs. They split in the 2015 portion of the season then Florida spanked the Sabres 5-1 in their last meeting early in January.
For what it's worth, one final quote from Bruins broadcaster Jack Edwards on the Sabres. "Here's what you're gonna get with the Buffalo Sabres. They don't look at the scoreboard, they don't look at the standings. They know that this year isn't about making a run. They want to win every shift. If they get back to the bench and won a shift, they get an 'attaboy.'"